I don’t know whatever possessed me to try and write a column about burnout. It’s like being assigned a term paper on nihilism: you’re really, really tempted not to turn in anything at all. Nobody can say that you failed to grasp the concept at hand.
Luckily (?) for you, my work ethic has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes. But I have been to the Edge: and I can tell you what lies beyond.
If you’ve been reading webcomics for any decent period of time, you’ve seen some of your favorites go from full blossom to pushing up daisies. It can be the result of mysterious blunt trauma (Neil B’s entire site), a shift in artistic biochemicals (Hope Larson’s I Was There and Just Returned), or the ever popular Terminal Life Syndrome*. Barring a few jerks, artists don’t do this to piss people off (even if they do just mess up now and again). They do it to keep breathing and to maintain self-respect and/or artistic integrity.
A lot of fans, to their credit, are understanding and either move on to other pastures or continue to stop in and now and again to supportively prod. Some of them, however, just don’t seem to get it. They whine, pester, denounce, and huff: whether they’re just out to fill their righteousness quota for the month, or whether they actually think it will bring their favorites back from the dead, varies from case to case. The first kind are just being human, if not exactly the milk of kindness type. The second kind are being morons, and they should be stopped.
So for their education and your entertainment, I present to you excerpts from The Reader’s Guide to Deadly Webcomic Diseases and Their Relevant Symptoms. Use it well, recognize the signs, and be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
OMIGAWD!!!! syndrome. Indicated by a wildly excited rash of fans covering the entirety of the artist’s body. Typified by itchiness, burning, and overall severe irritation which prevents clear passage of air to the artist’s brain. Creative endeavors eventually stifle beneath multiple mucus-y layers of hype.
what you can do: you don’t need to have a conversation with them every time they log on to AIM. Nor should you get upset when they don’t answer your e-mail within 48 hours. Appreciation is great, obsession is just scary.
Pedomorphic Reversion syndrome. Occurs when the artist matures internally but is trapped within an immature artistic epidermis. This external layer is almost completely dead and often shows signs of necrotic flaking, yet may still excite positive reactions in the contiguous fan base. The artist proceeds to either severely neglect or completely reject this fossilized tissue to the chagrin of all.
what you can do: not much, other than to encourage continuing artistic efforts. Feel free to hope that the artist will repair the tissue damage inflicted during their escape, but don’t count on it.
Self-Mortification syndrome. The exhaustion that results when the artist places themself in a position of repeated stress brought on by dangerous levels of ambition, which acts to impair judgment centers in the brain. Resulting symptoms include full-color, obsessive hatching, twice daily updates, delicate hand lettering, intensely detailed backgrounds, etc.
what you can do: be willing to compromise between quantity and quality, and recognize that sometimes either the Photoshop coloring goes, or the comic does. This is mostly the fault of the artist for misgauging their abilities, but they’re probably embarrassed enough as it is.
Really Bloody Poor syndrome. Indicated by a distinct lack of financial blood flow, resulting in paralysis of the drawing and Internet extremities. Death is precipitated either by complete collapse as a result of overtaxed resources, or by the necessity of resorting to "real jobs" to achieve financial transfusion. The most common cure, seeking payment either on an individual basis or with a physician’s supervision, is nevertheless associated with stigma, and commonly referred to as "selling out". Curiously, many conspecifics claiming the highest levels of compatibility with the artist will often decline donation, despite the complete absence of infection risk.
what you can do: quite obviously, give financial support, even in small amounts. If you yourself are entirely unable to donate money, express support through other personalized means: " I can’t, but I understand" does help to a certain extent, if only emotionally and for a brief period of time.
College/Baby syndrome (offshoot, Terminal Life syndrome). Typified by a long bout of artistic coma, reflexive obsession with a dominant real-life stressor, or extended epileptic fits of angst interspersed with brief periods of productivity.
what you can do: gentle teasing, congratulations, entertaining anecdotes, and time-released capsules of patience are all advisable. Aggression often results in the artist’s complete disgust with art online.
These, then, are some of the most common diseases which strike webcomic artists today. The list above is certainly not complete, but hopefully does cover most of the major families of infliction. The techniques above are useful only when you truly care about the artist, and when the artist truly cares about their audience; sometimes, it’s just not worth it to try and coddle somebody back to the drafting table. Some artists just deserve a good kick in ass, and some just need to take two aspirin and update in the morning. Regardless, a lot of them deserve to be treated well for their efforts.
And so go forth, now educated in the ways of the considerate audience. Remember, if you can’t save the comic, you can help save the artist.
* (scenario: The artist’s fans huddle nervously outside the operating theater, awaiting a diagnosis. Some mutter nervously to themselves; others pace, or pretend indifference. Each time a blood-spattered nurse emerges from the theater in search of some exotic scalpel or clamp, they turn, faces drawn with anxiety; but she merely disappears once more, wordlessly.
After what seems like months**, the surgeon emerges. Exhaustedly, he pulls down his mask and peels away his gore-flecked latex gloves. The fans turn as one towards him, almost not daring to speak–)
FANS: … what did you find, Doctor?
SURGEON (brokenly): … she… she has a Life.
** probably because it normally is months